Mojo - November 2009

West Va. Chamber of Commerce Plays Dirty With Health Care Reform

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 1:46 PM EST

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is playing dirty with health care reform. It's pressuring its homestate Democratic senators, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, to block health care legislation unless the Obama administration ends what the Chamber calls a "war on coal."

The Obama administration and Congress have waged "a growing campaign against the mining and use of coal," said West Virginia Chamber President Steve Roberts in a press release. He cited both the administration's efforts to cut carbon emissions via climate legislation, as well as its tougher enforcement of environmental standards for mining practices. "This needs to end before irreparable damage sets in," Roberts threatened. "It seems counterintuitive to ask taxpayers in this country to pour money and take on a trillion dollars in future debt to expand health care coverage and benefits while at the same time the Obama administration and Congress are working to destroy jobs, eliminate good health care benefits and hurt people's well-being."

Coal, however, does not "improve the health and well-being" of either miners or local residents. Coal mining, combustion, and disposal can cause serious health problems, including black lung, asthma, and mercury pollution, to name a few. And the number of coal-related jobs is on the decline in West Virginia and the rest of the country, in part because coal has laid off workers after mechanizing much of its operations. There are fewer than half as many jobs in the coal sector now as there were in the early '80s, according to the Energy Information Administration. There are now more jobs in the wind industry than in mining.

A third of non-elderly West Virginians were uninsured at some point in 2007-2008—most of them for six months or more. Yet the state's Chamber wants its congressional delegation to block legislation that would provide those residents with access to health care. "Votes to advance national health care reform are at razor-thin margins in both houses of Congress," Roberts concludes. "West Virginia’s congressional delegation needs to use this time—and their clout and seniority—to get this anti-coal situation stopped."

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What Will Harry Reid Do?

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 10:49 AM EST

President Barack Obama talks alone with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Oval Office. (White House photo.)President Barack Obama talks alone with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Oval Office. (White House photo.)Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won praise on the left for including a public option in the health care bill that he's bringing to the floor of the Senate. But Reid's coming up on a big decision: while he may be able to wrangle the 60 votes to start debate on the bill tomorrow, there's evidence to suggest he many not be able to hold the Democratic caucus together to get the 60 votes necessary to end debate on a bill that includes a public option and move to a final vote. That's because conservative Democrats like Nebraska's Ben Nelson and Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln see a lot of potential value in bucking their party. So the left is bracing for Reid to betray them by removing the public option from the bill in order to earn the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Current DC conventional wisdom says that if Snowe votes for cloture on the bill, allowing it to come to a final vote, conservative Dems will almost certainly join her. Here's FDL's Jon Walker arguing that Reid can't be trusted:

Many of Snowe’s top demands managed to make their way into the bill.

Harry Reid decided to take the terrible "free rider" provision championed by Snowe from the Senate Finance committee bill instead of the employer mandate from the [Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee] bill. Reid went with a very much weaker individual mandate more in keeping with the wishes of Snowe. He also kept the terrible “nationwide plans” from the [Senate Finance Committee] bill. Snowe strongly backs the nationwide plans and claimed it was one of the reason she voted for the bill in committee....

...If progressives find out that Reid’s support of the public option was purely for show, while at the same time he secretly worked with Snowe to kill it with a trigger, that would not go over well with the base. Reid does have the power to get a public option passed, there is no good excuse for failure.

The left isn't taking Reid's support as a given. On Saturday, as the Senate moves towards an initial vote on Reid's health care bill, the Progressive Choice Campaign Committee (PCCC) will be canvassing Reid's home state of Nevada with robocalls praising his efforts. The call will reach at least 10,000 households every day for the next two weeks "so long as Reid stays strong" on the public option. The message: "If Reid Fights, We'll Get His Back." The implication, of course, is that if Reid doesn't keep fighting for the public option, the left won't back him in his tough reelection battle next year.

If Reid can figure out how to secure the votes he needs for cloture without enraging the left, he'll look like a political genius. But if he fails to get the votes, he'll look like a fool. And if he gets the votes but loses the left by gutting the public option, he may find himself out of a job next November. It's a tough spot to be in.

The Thanksgiving Doc Dump

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 10:30 AM EST

One of the big pieces of news that came out of Eric Holder's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday was Holder's promise that the long-awaited Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility report on torture will be out by the end of the month. In practice, that means that the report will probably come out next Wednesday evening (the night before Thanksgiving), next Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving), or, best-case scenario, this evening.

It's called a doc dump, and you don't have to tolerate it. Whenever the report does come out, come here and help us read through it. If we can teach the administration that the things they don't want covered are going to get covered no matter what, then maybe we won't have to deal with the doc dump so much in the future.

How We Pay for Big Pharma's Malpractice

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 10:15 AM EST

The main reason we can't get a health reform bill enacted is because the pharmaceutical and insurance industries aren’t happy with their piece of the action. This despite the fact that when politicians talk about cutting costs, what they really mean is cutting services to us so these two big industries can enhance their profitability.

One reason drug companies need additional revenue is because employee whistleblowers have found the nerve to report the industry's crooked business practices—leading to multi-million dollar payouts to injured patients plus fines for legal violations. "I was trained to do things and did things that were blatantly illegal," David Franklin, a Parke-Davis whistle-blower, told the Boston Globe in 2003. "I knew my job was to falsely gain physicians' trust and trade on my graduate degree. If he was a cardiologist, I was an expert in cardiology. If he was a neurologist, I was an expert in neurology." Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers themselves stand to make millions of dollars for turning in their bosses.

But in the end we're the ones who pay for drug company malfeasance—in the form of higher prices. And when it comes to health care reform, we'll pick up the tab for their underhanded dealings in the form of reduced medical care—especially in the Medicare program—negotiated by our representatives in the name of fiscal restraint.

In early November the Indianapolis Star ran down some of the big payouts by the drug companies:

Bush Administration Officials Defend Holder's Decision on KSM

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 10:13 AM EST

Jim Comey and Jack Goldsmith, who both served in the Justice Department during the Bush administration, have an op-ed in Friday's Washington Post defending Eric Holder, Obama's Attorney General. Comey and Goldsmith say Holder's decision to try 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court was "reasonable," because military commissions really aren't everything the right is cracking them up to be:

[Critics of Holder's decision] place undue faith in military commissions as an alternative to civilian trials.... Tne reason commissions have not worked well is that changes in constitutional, international and military laws since they were last used, during World War II, have produced great uncertainty about the commissions' validity. This uncertainty has led to many legal challenges that will continue indefinitely -- hardly an ideal situation for the trial of the century.

By contrast, there is no question about the legitimacy of U.S. federal courts to incapacitate terrorists. Many of Holder's critics appear to have forgotten that the Bush administration used civilian courts to put away dozens of terrorists, including "shoe bomber" Richard Reid; al-Qaeda agent Jose Padilla; "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh; the Lackawanna Six; and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for the same conspiracy for which Mohammed is likely to be charged. Many of these terrorists are locked in a supermax prison in Colorado, never to be seen again.

Goldsmith and Comey also say that concerns about the KSM trial making New York a more attractive target for terrorists are unwarrented, since "If al-Qaeda could carry out another attack in New York, it would." The column should be politically useful for Holder and the Obama administration ("even Bush administration officials defend our decision"). Read the whole thing.

Obama Nation Raising Money Off Palin "Lies"

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 10:07 AM EST

It probably had to happen. The Obama gang is raising money off Sarah Palin—and her "lies."

On Friday morning, Organizing for America, the offshoot of the Obama presidential campaign (which works within the Democratic National Committee), sent out an email to the millions of people on its mailing list, noting that Palin has lied about President Barack Obama's health care reform efforts—remember her accusation about "death panels"?—and has continued to attack Obama and his health care plan while on her book tour. According to the email, the Obama crew believes Palin has the power to affect the national debate on this issue: "Whatever lie comes next will be widely covered by the media, then constantly echoed by right-wing attack groups and others who are trying to defeat reform."

The letter, signed by Mitch Stewart, the director of OFA, warns that Palin will be peddling disinformation about the White House health care reform plan on Fox News (with Sean Hannity) and on other conservative outlets. It asks for five bucks, so OFA can amass a $500,000 warchest to be used to "push back against Sarah Palin and her allies."

Whether Palin is running for president or not in 2012, the Obama strategists clearly see her as a useful foil. With book sales indicating there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are quite keen on her—and willing to shell out money to support her petty get-'em-back crusade—OFA is about to determine if there are similar numbers of Americans who want to pay a few dollars to join an anti-Palin campaign. It might have struck gold.

The full fundraising letter is after the jump.

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The Coal Industry's $47 Million PR Spending Spree

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 6:00 AM EST

The coal industry's major lobby group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, shelled out a stunning $47 million last year on lobbying, advertising and "grassroots outreach" efforts to fight climate legislation and tout the benefits of "clean coal." Its efforts to actually develop clean coal technology, however, were a lot less impressive.

ACCCE's most recent IRS filing, obtained by Greenwire (sub. req'd), lists the contributions to the coalition by the nation's biggest coal companies. Arch Coal Inc., Consol Energy Inc., and Peabody Energy Corp. each chipped in $5 million; Foundation Coal Corp. gave $3 million, Southern Co. $2.1 million, and American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. (which has since left the group) gave $2 million. ACCCE is among the biggest spenders when it comes to influencing the debate on climate and energy.

But for all their expensive efforts to sell the public on the wonders of clean coal, ACCCE isn't working quite as hard to make the technology a reality. The coalition's members have committed the comparatively paltry sum of $3.6 billion to research the technology between 2003 and 2017, according to an April report from the Center for American Progress. That's just $257 million on average each year to develop the technology to capture and sequester carbon. To put that in perspective, ACCCE's members made a combined total of $297 billion in profits between 2003 and 2008—meaning, as the report notes, that they're spending less than two cents on clean coal research for every $1 of profit.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 20, 2009

Fri Nov. 20, 2009 5:58 AM EST

Members of the rifle detail perform a 3-volley salute during 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment's memorial service for nine Marines and one sailor killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Hundreds attended the memorial service Tuesday morning that took place between Hangars 1 and 2 aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga.)

Need To Read: November 20, 2009

Fri Nov. 20, 2009 5:56 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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The Chamber's Sick Swine Flu Lobbying

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 6:39 PM EST

See update below.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been busy this year fighting everything from climate change legislation to health care reform to financial regulation, has taken on a new battle: It's come out against congressional measures intended to curb the spread of the H1NI virus, which has sickened 22 million Americans since April and killed an estimated 3,900 people.

The bills, introduced in the Senate by Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and in the House by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), would provide American workers with five days of paid sick leave. The provision would sunset after two years, but the idea is to keep swine flu carrying workers from infecting their collleagues and adding to the epidemic.

Chamber Vice President Randel K. Johnson told the New York Times that they oppose paid sick leave because "the vast majority of employers provide paid leave of some sort." Except, many employers don't--one third of workers don't have any paid sick leave. Less than half of service-sector employees have paid sick leave, and only 39 percent of construction and farming workers get leave. Low-wage workers are the least likely to have paid sick leave, and the most likely to come to work sick because they need the money.

Yet the lack of paid sick leave is causing many people to go to work while ill, despite admonitions to stay home. This is a particular concern for service-sector employees, like waiters, child care providers, and health care workers who interact with the public as part of their job and can easily transmit the virus to others.

The Chamber insists that a global epidemic is not a good reason to start treating employees like human beings all of a sudden. "The problem is not nearly as great as some people say," said Johnson. "Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees."

The Service Employees International Union is now circulating a petition against the Chamber, asking them to "cease lobbying" against the measure.

UPDATE: Over on the Chamber's blog, the group argues that they have not formally opposed this legislation in particular, and believes that SEIU is attacking them unfairly.

"[T]he U.S. Chamber recognizes that this issue has many dimensions and is exploring whether legislation in this area would be helpful to employees without overburdening employers and limiting their options to provide benefits tailored to their workplace," they wrote.